Key workers in pandemic deserve compensation – Varadkar

Better terms and conditions for private sector to be part of Covid legacy, Tánaiste says

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar: ‘The term ‘frontline worker’ or ‘essential worker’ has taken on a new meaning and I don’t think we can thank them enough for what they have done.’ Photograph: Julien Behal

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar: ‘The term ‘frontline worker’ or ‘essential worker’ has taken on a new meaning and I don’t think we can thank them enough for what they have done.’ Photograph: Julien Behal

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Key staff who have worked through the pandemic could receive cash payments or additional leave as an appreciation for their efforts, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Employment Leo Varadkar has said.

He also suggested that part of the legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic for those in the private sector would be better terms, conditions and security.

Mr Varadkar’s comments came as a number of groups including staff in the health service and workers in the State-owned transport companies, Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus, have lodged claims for additional leave or some other form of “compensation” for their role in dealing with the pandemic.

The Irish Times understands that the trade union movement raised this issue with Mr Varadkar at a meeting of the Labour Employer Economic Forum late last week.

Mr Varadkar said the details on how the workers concerned could be recognised for the contribution could be worked out when the pandemic abated.

Speaking to the Irish Times on Wednesday, the Tánaiste said: “Hundreds of thousands of people across the country have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep us safe and well. They’ve taken care of us when we’ve been sick, made sure we’ve had enough food and supplies and taken us when we have needed to make an essential journey.

‘Exhausted’

“As well as our nurses and doctors, gardaí and pharmacists, there are countless others – those working in our supermarkets and factories, in transport and delivery, cleaners and takeaway staff and those working in our testing facilities, contact tracing and labs who have been exposed to the virus over the past year.

“The term ‘frontline worker’ or ‘essential worker’ has taken on a new meaning and I don’t think we can thank them enough for what they have done, their dedication and selflessness.

“I know many of them are exhausted after 11 months of hard slog and there is a way to go yet. How we pay tribute to their efforts and show our appreciation is something that should be done once the pandemic is safely behind us. It could take the form of cash payment like in other countries or maybe extra leave.”

He said that for personnel in the public service any measures would have to be negotiated in the context of the new agreement between the Government and staff representatives and trade unions which was negotiated in December.

“I know from my point of view, for the private sector, as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, part of the legacy of this pandemic is going to be better terms, conditions and security for all workers including the introduction of sick pay for all, more parental leave, the right to request remote working, the move to a living wage and access to an occupational pension for all.”

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